Job interviews: The best way to figure out a candidate’s suitability for a job and assess their skills, personality and level of expertise. Sound daunting right? We think so too. When your main task is to put your best foot forward, it can be difficult to know when to hold back in answering interview questions.
Some potential employers could try to take advantage of a candidate’s nerves and sneak through a tricky interview question or two. These questions are simply off-limits, and are personal and not related to the job in any way. While these questions are hard to answer, there’s usually a way to navigate them.
“Given that a person’s character traits are relevant to their ability to perform many jobs, questions that demonstrate these character traits (e.g. “Provide an example of a time you overcame a problem”) are perfectly permissible. However, questions that seek information beyond what is relevant to the role are not.” Trent Hancock, Principal Lawyer at employment law firm McDonald Murholme.
So, what happens when an interviewer asks a downright illegal question? How should you behave and how to recognise that a question is violating your rights?
Well, here’s a list of the most common illegal interview questions to prepare you better.
Are you married? Do you have plans to get married soon?
No matter how nice the interviewer or how it seems like they’re just trying to get to know you better, this line of questioning is most certainly illegal.
Not only does it fall under pregnancy discrimination, it also probes into your sexual orientation – and both are definite no-no’s.
Know that you’re not obliged to reveal any information related to your personal life.
Do you have children?
This question usually goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. The interviewer is trying to gauge what other responsibilities you may have. For example, if you have toddlers, the chances of you taking days off is higher than if you have teens.
This is exactly why this question is illegal. Having children or planning to have children doesn’t affect your work performance and this line of questioning should be nipped in the bud.
Are you religious?
Maybe it seems like the interviewer is being nice, trying to be accommodating of your needs for days off – but this is simply none of the company’s business. If you’re able perform your task to their satisfaction, it really doesn’t matter what you believe.
This question is firmly in the illegal column, as it opens a path to religious discrimination.
How old are you?
In a personal interview, the employer will have a chance to guess your age based on your appearance or do the maths based on graduation dates etc on your resume. They are not allowed to openly ask you how old you are, just like they are not allowed to discriminate against you based on your age.
When you are qualified for the position, it doesn’t really matter if you’re 42 or 22.
What is your nationality?
You might not know this, but nationality discrimination is a pretty big thing. So big in fact, that laws have been put in place so that hiring staff can’t legally ask you what country you come from. Similarly, they can’t ask you if English is your first language.
As long as you have a legal permit to work in Australia, your country of origin is a personal matter.
Have you ever been arrested?
An interviewer can ask you if you’ve ever been convicted of a crime, which can affect your possibilities of getting hired, depending on the crime in question. For instance, if you were convicted of theft, you might have issues getting a job that involves directly handling money.
However, employers can’t legally ask you if you have ever been arrested.
How are your finances?
The state of your finances should not concern your employer. Whether or not you have outstanding debt, loans or trillions of dollars – if you can do the job right, it doesn’t matter.
Some other things that fall into this line of questioning are if you rent or own property, and how good are you at balancing your budget.
Are you currently employed?
There’s no real reason to ask this, apart from maybe seeing when you’d be able to start on a new job. You can always list your first available starting date, without really answering the question.
Employers are legally not allowed to discriminate against anyone employed, unemployed or on benefits.
Do you have any injuries or illnesses?
This can be a legitimate question for physical jobs: if you need to work construction, a bad back can be a hindrance.
That being said, under all other conditions, a probe into your health is strictly illegal. The employer is not allowed to discriminate against you because of any disability you might have. as long as you are able to do the job.
What questions are classified as legal?
There can be a fine line between legal and illegal interview questions. Hancock states that in Section 107 of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 “a person should not be asked to supply information around their age, gender, ethnicity or sexuality. The reason questions relating to these factors are unlawful is for the simple fact that these factors are not relevant to an employee’s ability to perform a job.” However, if the information asked of the candidate is required for non-discriminatory purposes then the question may be deemed as reasonable, “For example, if a person was applying for a role at a warehouse that required heavy lifting, it would be lawful for the employer to ask about a physical disability insofar as it affected the interviewee’s ability to perform heavy lifting.” The question asked relates directly to the abilities required to successfully perform the job’s tasks.
How to answer illegal interview questions?
Remember what we said above about wanting to put your best foot forward? Well, it can be hard to simply refuse to answer, especially when you really want the job. But, what if you sense that a question might be entering the illegal territory?
Your best bet is politely declining to answer. After all, the right person for the job has all the experience and qualifications: no amount of personal information revealed changes that. Remain confident and try to answer part of the question that can be related to previous experience (if possible), alternatively, try some of these approaches:
“That’s not a question I’m used to answering and I’m not too sure how to approach it. What I can tell you is….”
“I believe my childcare arrangements have been well planned and executed. Is family an important value to the company?”
“I don’t believe this question directly relates to how well I can perform the vacant role. Is there a reason you ask? Is there a component of the job which directly relates to this question?”
“I would say that this does not impact my ability to excel in this role and I am confident that my professional skills and experience would be a good fit”
“While religion is important to me, it has never interfered with my career or my place of work”
“I’ve never seen age as a factor, especially when it comes to executing my tasks”
Most employers will move away from this line of questioning once they see you’re uncomfortable. If not, then warning bells should be ringing in your head as to the type of employer they may be and whether this is even a company you want to work for.
Want to know more? For further information around workplace discrimination, visit Fair Work.